Amharic language

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Spoken in

Ethiopia , Eritrea , Djibouti , Kenya
speaker About 30% of the Ethiopian population, that is currently about 34 million.
Official status
Official language in EthiopiaEthiopia Ethiopia
Flag of the Amhara Region.svg Amhara Benishangul-Gumuz Gambela region of the southern nations, nationalities and peoples
Flag of the Benishangul-Gumuz Region.svg
Flag of the Gambella Region.svg
Flag of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region.svg
Language codes
ISO 639 -1

at the

ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Amharic theater advertising in Addis Ababa

The Amharic (proper name አማርኛ amarəñña [ amarɨɲːa ]) is a äthiosemitische language , of northern Central Ethiopia as a native language of the Amhara is spoken. It is also the most important lingua franca in Ethiopia and is spoken in all cities in the country. According to the 2007 census, with 19.87 million speakers (26.89% of the total population), it is the Ethiopian language with the second largest number of native speakers after the Oromo . It is also spoken as a second language by a large number of Ethiopian residents.

Amharic is written with the Ethiopian script .

Amharic is the official working and official language at the level of the central government and the working language in five states of Ethiopia.

Amharic is also spoken in Eritrea by Eritreans who grew up in Ethiopia and elderly people who experienced Ethiopian rule. Ethiopian immigrants and labor immigrants living in Djibouti also often speak Amharic.


Amharic is one of the Ethiosemitic languages, a subgroup of Semitic . Within Ethiosemitic, Amharic belongs to the group of the southern Ethiosemitic languages. In this group it is assigned to the AA subgroup of the Transversal South Ethiopian Semitic. Argobba is considered to be the closest related language .


The Amhara region in southwestern Wollo, which is located in north-central Ethiopia, is considered to be the origin of Amharic . Since the beginning of the Solomonic dynasty under Yekuno Amlak in the 13th century, it was the lesana negus , 'language of the king'. As a result, Amharic was spread across large parts of the country over the centuries. Today it is spoken as a mother tongue by most of the inhabitants of the northern regions of Shewa , Gondar (Begemder), Gojjam and Wällo . Since 1991, these areas inhabited by Amhars have formed the administrative region of Amhara , one of nine ethnically defined federal states of Ethiopia.


According to the conditions ( phonetics ), the Amharic from the classic Semitic languages is different. In some cases, older relationships have been retained, for example with the glottalized consonants ; on the other hand, some archaic consonants, such as B. pharyngeal consonants, dwindled.

Amharic is usually rendered in different notation conventions. In the tables, the individual sounds are initially noted according to the IPA convention. The different forms that are used in the transliteration of the Ethiopian script and are common in philologically oriented Ethiopian studies are shown in the brackets .


Bilabial Dental Palato-alveolar
Velar Glottal
Plosives unvoiced p t k ʔ (ʾ)
voiced b d G
Ejectives (p ', p̣) (t ', ṭ) (q, ḳ)
Affricates unvoiced ʧ (č)
voiced ʤ (ǧ)
Ejectives ʦ ' (s') ʧʼ (č ', č̣)
Fricatives unvoiced f s ʃ (š) H
voiced z ʒ (ž)
Nasals m n ɲ (ñ)
Liquid w l j (y)
Flaps r


Front tongue vowel Central vowel Back vowel
closed i ɨ (ə) u
medium e ə (ä) O
open a

In the following, the transliteration characters of the Ethiopian script (in brackets in the table) and not the corresponding IPA characters are used to represent the grammar.



Amharic is characterized by a complex morphology, which has led to a great variety of forms, especially in the area of ​​verb morphology, similar to the verb morphology of Semitic Arabic .



Amharic has the two grammatical genera masculine and feminine. In the case of nouns, however, the gender is usually not directly marked morphologically. Most nouns are masculine. Certain nouns that refer to people have a generic gender. For some feminine nouns, the gender is indicated by a special ending -it .


In Amharic, a distinction is made between singular and transnumeral on the one hand and plural on the other. Singular and transnumeral are formally identical, as they are not indicated by special forms. The Transnumeral category refers to a group of speakers, the exact number of which is not known. The plural, on the other hand, is indicated by the ending -očč on nouns : z. B. bet 'house', betočč 'houses'; säw 'man', säwočč 'men, people'; mäkina 'car' mäkinočč 'cars'.

Singular Transnumeral Plural
and säw mät't'a [አንድ ሰው መጣ] bəzu säw alläqä [ብዙ ሰው አለቀ] sost säwočč mät't'u [ሦስት ሰዎች መጡ]
A man came. Many men died Three men came.

The direct article is added to the noun as a suffix. The gender distinction between masculine and feminine is also evident in the article: its masculine form is -u and the feminine form is -wa : bet-u 'the house' and lam-wa 'the cow' (from lam 'cow').


The free personal pronouns of Amharic only differentiate the gender in the 2nd and 3rd persons in the singular. Unlike, for example, in the Northern Ethiopian Semitic languages Old Ethiopian or Tigrinya, there is no gender distinction in the plural forms. Free personal pronouns are mainly used for anaphoric purposes and for focusing. There are also two types of bound personal pronouns, which are used to mark the object on the verb and as possessive suffixes on nouns.

Amharic has two forms of respect for pronouns that are used to respectfully speak to or about someone.

number person Free personal pronouns bound pronouns
Object suffixes Possessive suffixes
Singular 1. əne [እኔ] -ññ [-ኝ] -e [-ኤ]
2. masculine antä [አንተ] -h [-ህ] -h [-ህ]
2. feminine anči [አንቺ] [-ሽ] [-ሽ]
3. masculine əssu [እሱ] -w / -t [-ው / -ት] -u [-ኡ]
3. feminine əssʷa [እሷ] -at [-አት] -wa [-ዋ]
Plural 1. əñña [እኛ] -n [-ን] -aččən [-አችን]
2. ənnantä [እናንተ] -aččəhu [-አችሁ] -aččəhu [-አችሁ]
3. ənnässu [እነሱ] -aččäw [-አቸው] -aččäw [-አቸው]
Form of respect 2. ərsswo [እርስዎ] -wo / -wot [-ዎ / -ዎት] -where [-ዎ]
3. əssaččäw [እሳቸው] -aččäw [-አቸው] -aččäw [-አቸው]


  • Free personal pronoun
    əssu hakim Näw [እሱ ሐኪም ነው] (he - doctor - he is) 'He is doctor.'; əne, wädä pray hedku. [እኔ ፣ ወደ ቤቴ ሄድኩ] (I - to - my house - I went) 'I went home.'
  • Object
    suffix ayyän-at [አየናት] 'We saw them.'; mätta-ññ [መታኝ] 'He hit me.'
  • Possessive suffix
    bet-e [ቤቴ] 'my house'; wändəm-u [ወንድሙ] 'his brother'; agär-aččən [አገራችን] 'our country'

The personal pronouns of the 3rd person and of respect have the alternative forms ərsu (er), ərsʷa (she) and ənnärsu (she pl.), As well as ərswo (you) and ərsaččäw (he / she resp.), Which are occasionally in written form, but are used less often in the spoken language.


The root principle

The morphological structure of the verb is made up of a root morpheme, which consists of one to five root consonants, also called radicals, and a certain sequence of vowels that fill the consonant framework. The type and number of vowels as well as possible elongation of one of the root consonants is determined by the respective aspect or mode form.
As an example, some forms that are formed from the root flg with the meaning 'want, seek':

  • fällägä [ፈለገ] 'he was looking for', yəfalləgall [ይፈልጋል] 'he is looking for', fälləgo nabbär [ፈልጎ ነበር] 'he was looking for', mäfallägu [መፈለጉ] 'looking for', fəllagot [ፍላጎት] 'wish', fällagi [ፈላጊ ] 'Viewfinder'.
Tense and aspect

Amharic has a mixed tense - aspect system. It has three types of conjugation, which primarily represent aspect distinctions, but can be classified temporally with the help of auxiliary verbs . The three conjugation types are perfect, imperfect and perfect.

number person Perfective Imperfect Perfect
Singular 1. fälläg-ku [ፈለግኩ] ə-fälləg-allähu [እፈልጋለሁ] fälləgg-e-yallähu [ፈልጌያለሁ]
2. masculine fälläg-k [ፈለግክ] tə-fälləg-aläh [ትፈልጋለህ] fälləg-ä-hall [ፈልገሃል]
2. feminine fälläg-š [ፈለግሽ] tə-fälləgi-yalläš [ትፈልጊያለሽ] fälləg-ä-šall [ፈልገሻል]
3. masculine fälläg-ä [ፈለገ] yə-fälləg-all [ይፈልጋል] fälləg-o-ʷall [ፈልጎዋል / ፈልጓል]
3. feminine fälläg-äčč [ፈለገች] tə-fälləg-alläčč [ትፈልጋለች] fälləg-a-lläčč [ፈልጋለች]
Plural 1. fälläg-n [ፈለግን] ənnə-fälləg-allän [እንፈልጋለን] fälləg-än-all [ፈልገናል]
2. fälläg-aččəhu [ፈለጋችሁ] tə-fälləg-allaččəhu [ትፈልጋላችሁ] fälləg-aččəhu-ʷall [ፈልጋችሁዋል / ፈልጋችኋል]
3. fälläg-u [ፈለጉ] yə-fälləg-allu [ይፈልጋሉ] fälləg-äw-all [ፈልገዋል]
Form of respect 2. fälläg-u [ፈለጉ] yə-fälləg-allu [ይፈልጋሉ] fälləg-äw-all [ፈልገዋል]
3. fälläg-u [ፈለጉ] yə-fälləg-allu [ይፈልጋሉ] fälləg-äw-all [ፈልገዋል]

Within Ethiopics, this form is also called perfect, but from a linguistic point of view it is actually a perfective aspect. The perfective is used to express an action or a state of affairs that is considered to be completed without reference to its internal structure. It is often used as a form of the narrative past. In the case of static verbs, however, it expresses a presentic state of affairs.


  • wädä Addis Ababa hed-u [ወደ አዲስ አበባ ሄዱ ] (to - Addis Ababa - they-went) 'They went to Addis Ababa'
  • assər amät bä-mullu ityop'ya näggäs-ä [አሥር ዓመት በሙሉ ኢትዮጵያ ነገሠ ] (ruled over all of Ethiopia for ten years) 'He ruled over all of Ethiopia for ten years.'

but with static verbs:

  • däkkäm-ä-ññ [ደከመኝ] (it-tired-me) 'I'm tired.'
  • rab- (ä) -at [ራባት] (it-made-her-hungry) 'She is hungry.'

The imperfect is traditionally also called 'compound past tense ', as it is formed from the original Semitic
past tense and the auxiliary verb -all . In Amharic, the pure past tense form cannot form a complete sentence, but must always appear with an auxiliary verb or in connection with another functional verb. In contrast to the perfect tense, the imperfective represents an action or a state of affairs excluding its temporal limits. Depending on the verb semantics and context, it can adopt a habitual or a progressive reading. It can also be located in the past (with the auxiliary verb nabbär ) as well as in the present or in the future (with the auxiliary verb -all ).


  • Almaz bunna tə-ṭäṭṭ-alläčč [አልማዝ ቡና ትጠጣለች ] (Almaz coffee she-drinks) 'Almaz drinks coffee.'
  • nägä wädä Addis Ababa ənnə-hed-allän [ነገ ወደ አዲስ አበባ እንሄዳለን ] (tomorrow to Addis Ababa we-go) 'Tomorrow we go to Addis Ababa.'
  • bä-zziyan gize Getahun bəzu yə-bäla nabbär [በዚያን ጊዜ ጌታሁን ብዙ ይበላ ነበር ] (at-that time Getahun a lot he-eats it-was) 'Getahun used to eat a lot at that time.'

The perfect consists of the converb and the auxiliary verb -all . (Traditionally, the converb is also called a gerund .) The perfect tense is used to express actions and facts that took place or began in the past and still affect the present.


  • wädä Addis Ababa hed-a-lläčč [ወደ አዲስ አበባ ሄዳለች ] (to Addis Ababa she-has-gone) 'She went to Addis Ababa (and is still there).'
  • yä-abbat-e bare əgr-u täsäbr-o-ʷall [የአባቴ ባሬ እግሩ ተሰብሯል ] (from-father-my bull's leg-his-is-broken) 'The leg of my father's bull is broken.'

State verbs in the perfect tense often have a presentic meaning:

  • bunna-w qäsqəs-o-ʷall [ቡናው ቀስቅሷል ] (Coffee-he-has-got-cold) 'The coffee is cold.'
number person imperative Jussiv
Singular 1. lə-fälləg [ልፈልግ]
2. masculine due [ፈልግ]
2. feminine fälləg-i [ፈልጊ]
3. masculine yə-fall [ይፈልግ]
3. feminine tə-fälləg [ትፈልግ]
Plural 1. ənnə-fälləg [እንፈልግ]
2. fälləg-u [ፈልጉ]
3. yə-fälləg-u [ይፈልጉ]
Form of respect 2. fälləg-u [ፈልጉ] yə-fälləg-u [ይፈልጉ]
3. yə-fälləg-u [ይፈልጉ]


The sentence order of Amharic is SOV (subject-object-verb), that is, the verb comes at the end of the sentence and subordinate clauses precede the main clause.

subject object verb
käbbädä [ከበደ] gämäd-un [ገመዱን] qorräṭ-ä [ቆረጠ]
Käbbädä Rope type acc
Käbbädä cut the rope.

The example shows a simple sentence with subject (Käbbädä), object (the rope) and verb ({er} cut) at the end of the sentence.


The Amharic is written with the Ethiopian script , which was originally developed from the Old South Arabic script for Old Ethiopian . In contrast to the other Semitic scripts, it is written from left to right. Some characters have been modified to represent some consonants that do not exist in ancient Ethiopian. The oldest written evidence of Amharic are the Old Amharic imperial songs from the 14th century, which were published for the first time by Guidi ( Le canzoni geez-amarina in onore di Ré Abissini , Rome 1889 ). The beginning of the modern literature of the Amharic is set in the 19th century with the writing of a chronicle of the emperor Tewodrus .

Syllable characters

Table of the syllables of the Ethiopian script for Amharic
ə u i a e ɨ * O
p '
t '
tʃ '
k '

* the consonant can be used without a vowel instead of ɨ

The correct display of the table requires a Unicode character set that covers the Ethiopian area (see Unicode block Ethiopian ).

See also


  • Renate Richter: Textbook of the Amharic language. 2nd Edition. Langenscheidt / Verlag Enzyklopädie, Leipzig 1994.
  • Josef Hartmann: Amharic grammar. Steiner, Wiesbaden 1980, ISBN 3-515-02730-0 .
  • Dawit Berhanu: Dictionary German-Amharic-English. Buske, Hamburg 2011. ISBN 978-3-87548-213-3 .
  • Micha Wedekind: Amharic - word for word , 3rd edition, Reise Know-How Verlag, Bielefeld 2009.
  • Edward Ullendorff: To Amharic Chrestomathy. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1965. ISBN 0-7286-0058-7 .
  • Thomas Leiper Kane: Amharic - English Dictionary. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1990, ISBN 3-447-02871-8 .
  • Wolf Leslau: Reference Grammar of Amharic. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1995, ISBN 3-447-03372-X .
  • Ronny Meyer: Amharic , The Role of Amharic as a National Language and an African lingua franca. In: Stefan Weninger, Geoffrey Khan, Michael P. Streck, Janet CE Watson (Eds.): The Semitic Languages: An International Handbook. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin 2011, pp. 1178-1220.
  • Robert Hetzron: Ethiopian Semitic. Studies in Classification. Manchester University Press, Manchester 1972, ISBN 0-7190-1123-X . * Ronny Meyer, Renate Richter: Language use in Ethiopia from a network perspective. Peter Lang, Frankfurt 2003, ISBN 3-631-50259-1
  • Baye Yimam: Definiteness in Amharic discourse. In: Journal of African Languages ​​and Linguistics. 17/1, 47-83, 1996, ISSN  0167-6164 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Amharic  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Africa :: ETHIOPIA . CIA The World Factbook.
  2. Basic information from the Ethiopian Parliament on the regions. ( Memento of July 23, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  3. Summary and Statistical Report of the 2007 Population and Housing Census Results . ( Memento of March 5, 2009 in the Internet Archive ; PDF; 4.7 MB) Central Statistics Agency (CSA), pp. 16, 84–86, 111.
  4. Ethiopian Semitic. Studies in Classification